Grouper Moon Project - Protecting a Caribbean Icon

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REEF volunteer, Heather George, swims amongst thousands of Nassau grouper, collecting information for the Grouper Moon Project. Photo by Paul Humann.
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Cayman Prep 4th year students working through a lesson on Nassau grouper as part of a new education initiative that REEF is leading in the Cayman Islands. Photo by Todd Bohannon.
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A juvenile Nassau grouper finds cover in shallow seagrass and rubble off Little Cayman. Photo by Jim Hellemn.
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Dr. Steve Gittings (REEF scientific advisor, center) with Dr. Guy Harvey (left) and Dr. Brice Semmens (right), after collecting eggs on spawning night. Photo by REEF.

REEF scientists and volunteers just wrapped up another season of the Grouper Moon Project, a collaborative research effort with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). Our research focuses on Little Cayman, which has one of the largest (and one of just a few) known spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper in the Caribbean. Over 4,000 grouper amass in one location for 7-10 days following winter full moons. Since 2002, REEF and our partners at CIDOE and Oregon State University have used state-of-the-art technology, as well as good old fashioned diver surveys, to study this amazing natural phenomenon and the research has yielded ground-breaking results. It was a very exiting year - we documented significantly higher numbers of fish at the site than in previous years (we are estimating that the aggregation has surpassed 4,000 fish), there were a lot of small fish this year (6-8 year olds, coming to spawn for the first time), and there are hundreds of juvenile (young-of-the-year) Nassaus throughout the shallow habitats around Little Cayman (a result of 2011 spawning). Also this year, with support from the Disney Wildlife Conservation Fund, we initiated an education program to introduce local children to the ecological, economic, and cultural role that Nassau grouper have in the Cayman Islands and wider Caribbean. An integrated marine science curriculum is being developed with a focus on two age groups (Grade 4 and Grade 11), that includes a series of classroom lessons and live from the field web sessions, including a live-feed from 80 feet on the aggregation. We are working with educator, Todd Bohannon, and piloting this program with Cayman Prep school on Grand Cayman.

Other highlights from Grouper Moon 2012:

- To raise awareness about the importance of spawning aggregations and the iconic Nassau grouper, we hosted documentary crews and underwater photographers to help capture the magical scenes of spawning and document our research. Dr. Guy Harvey, famed marine artist, is putting the finishing touches on "Mystery of the Grouper Moon", an hour-long show that will air later this year. A crew from the PBS series "Changing Seas" is producing an episode about the conservation impacts of our research. Paul Humann, REEF co-founder and marine life photographer, was on hand to document REEF's work in this important project. And Jim Hellemn brought his custom camera rig to generate wide-angle panorama images of the aggregation. These will be used to "immerse" the viewer into the aggregation at public displays.

- On spawning nights, samples of fertilized eggs were collected to use in future genetic work, to better understand spawning patterns and inter-conectedness between Nassau grouper populations throughout the Caribbean.

- Cynthia Shaw, author of the book "Grouper Moon", joined the REEF team both in the field and in the classroom this year. As a scientific illustrator, Cindy lent her expertise to helping document the details of juvenile Nassau gropuer habitat and led our Cayman Prep classrooms in drawning Nassau grouper. Cindy's book is now available in the REEF online store here.

- Research findings from the project, describing the timing and behavior of color phases on spawning in Nassau grouper, was published in a recent issue of the scientific journal Current Zoology. You can read this paper online here.

- A short compilation of underwater footage from the spawning aggregation is posted on YouTube here.

This year's effort came on the heals of the 11th hour extension of protections for the spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands. An 8-year ban that prohibits fishing at the aggregation sites during the reproductive season, originally implemented in 2003, was extended for eight more years in December 2011. The extension, enacted by the Marine Conservation Board, was in response to recommendations made by the CIDOE based on research findings of the Grouper Moon Project, showing that full protections during spawning season are critical to the long-term survival of this iconic species in the Cayman Islands. The Cayman Ministry may soon review a package of more thorough legislation that would enact seasonal closures for Nassau grouper during reproductive time (rather than only protecting the few spots on the map of known spawning sites).

Many Thanks! The Grouper Moon Project wouldn’t be possible without the dedication, passion, and financial support from many individuals, Cayman Island businesses, and foundations. It truly takes a village to pull off this conservation research project. Visit the Grouper Moon page to see the full list - http://www.REEF.org//groupermoonproject. If you would like to support this important marine conservation program, please donate to REEF - https://www.reef.org/contribute.

Putting It to Work: New Publication From the Grouper Moon Project

Parallel mounted lasers projected on the side of a Nassau grouper at the Little Cayman spawning aggregation.

A new paper was just published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation documenting a key monitoring technique established by scientists from REEF and our Grouper Moon collaborators. The paper, "Documenting recovery of a spawning aggregation through size frequency analysis from underwater laser calipers measurements", describes a technique to monitor changes in fish size on the Little Cayman spawning aggregation through time that does not require the capture and handling of fish. Analysis of seven years of data show that length-distribution data can be collected by divers using a video-based system with parallel lasers calibrated to a specific distance apart. This novel technique is one of just several being conducted as part of the Grouper Moon Project. View the paper online here. Find out more about our work on endangered Nassau Grouper by visiting the Grouper Moon Project webpage.

REEF Celebrates Our Supporters at Sustainers Event

Over 100 REEF Sustainers, marine conservationists, scientists, and prominent figures in the diving industry gathered in South Florida earlier this month to commemorate REEF's successes at the biennial REEF Sustainers Event. REEF Sustainers are donors who contribute at least $1,000 a year to support REEF's programs. REEF Board of Trustees and Staff welcomed our Sustainers and other invited guests to Mango Manor, the home of esteemed underwater photographer and REEF President, Paul Humann, for a day of presentations and camaraderie. It was an honor to have so many of our donors as well as leaders from the scientific and diving communities show support for REEF’s ocean conservation projects. Their support is critical and provides the resources to continue running REEF’s key programs: the Volunteer Fish Survey Project, Invasive Lionfish Program, and the Grouper Moon Project. If you would like to join REEF as a Sustainer, please contact Martha Klitzkie at martha@REEF.org or 305-852-0030. You can also make your donation through our secure online contribution portal. A special thanks to the event's sponsors and auction donors: Rocio del Mar LiveaboardRogestCaradonna Dive Adventures, Carrow Foundation, Herdeg, du Pont & Dalle Pazze, LLP, New World Publications, and Cheeko Douglas. 

REEF Database Tops 175,000!

Two of the 14,000+ REEF volunteers conducting a survey! Photo by Tom Collier.

A few weeks ago, the REEF Volunteer Fish Survey Project database topped 175,000 surveys! We are exicted and proud to have reached this milestone. Together with our 14,000+ volunteers, we have created the largest fish sightings database in the world! This vital dataset is used by marine scientists, researchers, and government agencies to better understand and protect marine resources. The number of scientific publications, requests for data, and policy decisions resulting from REEF data continue to increase. Visit our Publications page to see the citations list of scientific papers that feature REEF data. Visit our Top 10 Stats page to see the most frequently sighted species, the most species-rich locations, and our most active surveyors.

The Volunteer Fish Survey Project is the cornerstone program that supports REEF's mission to conserve marine ecosystems by educating, enlisting, and enabling divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active ocean stewards and citizen scientists. The program allows volunteer SCUBA divers and snorkelers to collect and report information on marine fish populations from throughout the coastal areas of North and Central America, Caribbean, Hawaii, and the tropical West Pacific, as well as on selected invertebrate and algae species along the West Coast of the US and Canada and the South Atlantic States. The data are collected using an easy and standardized method, and are housed in a publicly-accessible database on REEF's Website. The first surveys were conducted 20 years ago in Key Largo, in July 1993.

Explore the REEF database online at www.REEF.org/db/reports.

Like REEF on Facebook

Want to get the latest news and updates from REEF? Then be sure to check our the REEF Facebook Page. You don't have to have a Facebook account to view the page, anyone can look at the content. If you do have a Facebook profile, be sure to "like" us so that all of the latest information about REEF's programs and events, our marine conservation work, and exclusive content and stories will go straight to your feed. It's also a great place for our members to post pictures, fish stories, and whatever is on their mind. We also maintain the REEF Invasive lionfish Program Facebook Page to keep you up-to-date on our current lionfish programs.

Not a Facebook fan? You can also follow REEF on our blog: http://reeforg.blogspot.com/

Double Your Donation for REEF

There is one week left to DOUBLE YOUR DONATION, and we need $13,300 to reach our goal! Help REEF’s important marine conservation programs by donating to the largest matching campaign in our history. Please donate online today.

If you have already donated this season, thank you! Your contribution will help REEF support high quality citizen science data that are making a difference in our understanding of the oceans. With these discoveries come inspiration to educate communities around the world about the importance of marine conservation.

REEF is confident that with your help, we can secure $45,000 of matching funding offered by the Curtis and Edith Munson Foundation and the Henry Foundation. Please take this chance to donate today and double your dollars! Donate securely online, or call us at 305-852-0030 to donate over the phone. You can also mail your donation to REEF, PO Box 370246, Key Largo, FL 33037.

Announcing the Next Generation of REEF.org

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The all new REEF.org.
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One of the many improved features of the new REEF.org - more flexibility in generating data reports, including exciting ways to view your own survey data.

REEF is excited to announce the launch of a completely redesigned REEF.org website! A unique look, enhanced features, and pages of fresh content ... the address is the same but almost everything else about the REEF website is new. Through enhanced technology and innovative tools, the new Website will enable REEF to more effectively recruit, train and engage divers and snorkelers in the Volunteer Survey Project and REEF’s larger conservation science program. The new REEF.org will also facilitate communication among the REEF community through Member Forums.

The new and very much improved REEF.org is the result of a grant from the Norcross Foundation and a huge amount of work and patience by Ben Weintraub. Ben, a University of Washington Computer Sciences student, created the new site, which includes several new interactive features and a member log-in as well as many of the existing content and features in an updated, easy to navigate and user-friendly site.

Just a few of the features that you will find are:

  • More ways to explore your own survey data, including a REEF Survey Log.
  • Interactive discussion boards, including “ID Central”, a place where you can post identification questions and images of unknown critters for others to comment on, and a “Trip Reports” forum.
  • A searchable map of REEF Field Stations.
  • A central REEF Events calendar, including information on upcoming REEF classes and organized survey dives hosted by Field Stations.
  • Learning resources including quizzes and galleries.
  • An improved REEF Store to order all of your identification resources and survey materials.
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  • And Coming Soon -- Online Data Entry for ALL of our Survey Regions. This long-awaited feature should be available by the end of this week!

     

    To get the most out of the new website, you will need to become a registered REEF.org user, so be sure to create a user login profile.

    The new REEF.org website will enable REEF to more effectively achieve it's mission to educate, enlist and enable divers and other marine enthusiasts to become active stewards and citizen scientists. The site will also facilitate collaboration with REEF’s existing and new partners and allow our programs to reach a broader audience.

    In the coming months, REEF will continue to add new content, and areas still under construction will be completed. All of the REEF staff appreciate your patience in advance as the transition to REEF’s new website is completed.

    This is the third major revision to the REEF website. REEF’s online home was originally launched ten years ago in 1997. REEF would like to extend a huge thank you to Ben Weintraub and the Norcross Foundation for making this new site possible, as well as Dr. Michael Coyne (REEF’s primary IT Support Volunteer and developer of the REEF database), and Brice Semmens and Ken Marks (the designers of the previous two versions of REEF.org).

  • New Learning Tool! REEF Launches Reef Fish Identification Home Study Course

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    Reef Fish Identification DVD Home Study Course for Sale!

    By popular demand, REEF has adapted its classrrom course into a home study DVD course package for beginning "fishwatchers" in the Caribbean, Florida and Bahamas. Click here to read the press release; click here to purchase the DVD course. This would make an ideal holiday gift for your favorite fishwatcher!

    March 2008 Field Survey Update

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    Male Quillfin Blenny. Photo by Paul Humann
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    Female Quillfin Blenny. Photo by Paul Humann
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    REEF survey diver

    Only one space is open for the upcoming Turks and Caicos live-aboard Field Survey, April 19-26th aboard the Aggressor II. We have an ecclectic, well-rounded group of surveyors committed to making this a special trip. Time is running out to join. If you are interested in learning more, please contact Tami at Travel for You (1-888-363-3345) or Joe Cavanaugh at 305-852-0030.

    Spaces are also available for the Paul Humann Discovery Tour this summer in Key Largo scheduled June 21-28, 2008.  This Field Survey provides a great opportunity for new and seasoned surveyors to interact with renowned marine life author, Paul Humann, and learn from his many years experience, photographing and surveying marine creatures worldwide.  Horizon Divers is the dive shop for this trip and also a REEF Field Station. Horizon Divers has worked with REEF on a number of projects over the past several years.  Your time on the Discovery Tour will be split between class-work with Paul Humann, learning fish and invertebrate species identification and behavior, and diving multiple sites in Key Largo.  Paul will review fish and invertebrate sightings from the dives and incorporate what you are seeing into his classes.  Summer diving in the Keys cannot be beat and all the dives will be less than 60 feet depth.  There will be opportunities for a night dive and ample time for touring many of the local attractions in the Keys. 

     If you are interested in Paul's Discovery Tour, please phone Dan Dawson at Horizon Divers (305) 453-3535 (email: info@horizondivers.com), or phone Joe Cavanaugh at (305) 852-0030 (joe@reef.org).

    Capacity Building in the Pacific Northwest

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    Sixty REEF surveyors from the Puget Sound region attended the debut of advanced fish identification training at the Seattle Aquarium. Photo by Claude Nichols.
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    The Pacific Spiny Lumpsucker is one of the fishes included in the new PNW Advanced Fish Identification course. Photo by Tom Nicodemus.
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    Members of REEF's Advanced Assessment Team in the Pacific Northwest get ready for a survey dive with Pacific Adventures. Photo by Don Coleman.

    Thanks to funding from The Russell Family Foundation (TRFF) and a lot of hard work and coordination by regional REEF instructor, Janna Nichols, the Pacific Northwest is REEF's fastest growing region. The goals of the TRFF project were to enlist new divers into the REEF Volunteer Survey Project and provide incentive for existing surveyors to stay involved and increase their experience level. Between 1998 when REEF was launched in the Pacific Northwest and the beginning of the training program funded by TRFF, 4,101 surveys had been conducted in Washington State. During the 12 months of the project, the number of surveys increased an incredible 25% as a result of the funded project activities. 

    Eighty-three volunteers conducted these 1,065 surveys; 40 of the surveyors were new to the REEF Volunteer Survey Project (a total of 398 volunteers have conducted surveys in Washington since 1998). Many of these new volunteers have already become quite active and as a result of the project, 98 REEF surveyors advanced at least one level in their survey experience rating (including 10 new Expert rated surveyors!). This surge of involved and invested volunteers is invaluable to REEF capacity building efforts in the Pacific Northwest region. Another outcome of the TRFF project was the development of an advanced fish identification course for the Pacific Northwest. The course was debuted to a crowd of sixty divers at the Seattle Aquarium in May and will be available through the REEF online store later this month.

    The TRFF project highlighted the importance of providing continued education for our members and opportunities for organized surveying. While the TRFF project has come to an end, REEF recently secured a grant from the Seattle Biotech Legacy Foundation (SBLF) to continue these training opportunities. The SBLF project is also supporting REEF Director of Science, Dr. Christy Pattengill-Semmens, to attend the annual Ecological Society of America conference later this summer to present a talk on the importance of citizen science for conservation and management applications.

    To find out more about REEF activities in the Pacific Northwest, visit the PNW Critter Watchers webpage

    Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub